Set forth below is the seventy-fourth, and next-to-last, “Texas Shout” column. The first installment of a two-part essay, it first appeared in the July 1996 issue of TAR. The following notes, as well as the end-notes, were added when the column was reprinted in the August 2004 issue of The American Rag.
Because the text has not been updated, I’ll mention something that regular TAR readers already know: despite the implication in its closing sentence, I did close down both “Texas Shout” and, shortly thereafter, my record review column as well. I haven’t written any articles about jazz since, although I have supplied occasional pertinent addenda to this reprint series to keep it reasonably current. At the end of today’s reprint, however, I’ve added some comments about a subject that, though unrelated to today’s topic, has been close to my heart for the past forty years. I beg your indulgence in advance therefor.
As I became more deeply immersed in Dixieland and ragtime, I gradually came to realize that jazz literature is filled with “facts,” repeated over and over by people who ought to know better, that simply aren’t so. For example, I’m sure many of you have often been confronted with the false statement that, at the time of their historic initial recordings in 1942, Bunk Johnson and his sidemen were elderly musicians.
I also observed that such literature is filled with terms of art that the jazz community freely uses on the assumption that everyone understands what is meant – terms like “Chicago style,” “hot dance” and the like. You won’t have much trouble finding essays that will tell you who played such music, but you’ll look long and hard before you unearth anyone who’s tried to gather such phrases and write down, in musical terms, exactly what they mean.
As I put together my record collection, and as I lived through what has turned out to be nearly thirty years of reviewing records, I also noted that various “authorities” on the subject regularly were given to pronouncements that just didn’t square with the music on the records. You will often hear, for example, the incorrect claim that improvisation is essential to a jazz performance. However, if that were so, we would have to exclude from the jazz category many fully scored big-band swing and hot dance rides commonly accepted as jazz by just about everybody (not to mention, perhaps, some of Jelly Roll Morton’s most highly regarded sides – after all, isn’t he supposed to have just wanted his sidemen to read “those little black dots?”).
Finally, as I started getting away from Wilmington to attend jazz functions and play festivals, I realized that the scene was changing in a fundamental way from the one that existed when I first became a Dixieland/ragtime nut in the 1950s. Again, there seemed to be little direct discussion of this point in the several jazz periodicals I was regularly devouring.
I’m digressing too early in my tale, but let me tell you briefly why, in my opinion, so much misinformation about Dixieland gets up and running. I have met many people who say they love Dixieland. Upon closer examination, however, almost all of them turn out to love only a few of its seven styles, having no interest in, or an active dislike of, the others.
It is only human for such individuals to view Dixieland history, and to develop critical standards, in a way that conforms to their own preferences, even while telling themselves they’re being objective. Thus, they come to develop a philosophy of the music that elevates the styles they like over those they don’t.
For example, depending on whether the speaker prefers ensemble-oriented or solo-oriented Dixieland, I’ve heard assertions that solo improvisations are the essence of jazz and, conversely, that ensemble playing is the true heart of Dixieland. Both positions are nonsense. Solo-oriented Dixieland and ensemble-oriented Dixieland are simply two different, equally valid ways of utilizing the musical conventions and vocabulary typically employed by Dixielanders.
Similarly, depending on whether one prefers revivalist or Chicago style, you’ll hear opinions stating, on the one hand, that it is better to perform tunes which haven’t been commonly or frequently rendered in the past or, on the other, that you can’t beat the tried-and-true standbys. Again, both are nonsense as generalities.
You should always perform the best material you know because, in the last analysis, it is what you do with it that counts. A mediocre musician or band will still deliver second-rate jazz on a neglected gem, while a superior jazzman/woman will create something worthwhile on a vehicle that has been beaten into the ground many times by lesser talents.
Finally, you will hear it said in some circles that attempts to standardize the terminology used in our field constitutes stereotyping musicians or compartmentalizing our music. In fact, we will continue to waste our time in empty disputes unless we stop using different terms to mean the same thing and using the same terms to mean different things. The music we like, and the variations of it, have to be called something and our community is long overdue in reaching consensus as to what that something should be.
For that matter, we all categorize music, and for perfectly sensible reasons. Most of TAR’s readership prefers music normally categorized as Dixieland, ragtime and other pre-rock forms of American popular music. If TAR starts devoting its coverage to music normally categorized as grand opera or heavy metal rock, it will lose those readers, even if that coverage is devoted to the best opera and rock musicians and is insightfully written.
Similarly, many of us like Dixieland and swing, but dislike more modern jazz forms. We will not go to a “jazz” concert unless we know who’s playing, to insure that the musicians are ones who typically perform the categories of jazz we enjoy.
Among Dixieland fans, some love four-beat solo-oriented Chicago style and can’t stand two-beat ensemble-oriented West Coast revival – and vice versa. Such folks, when attending Dixieland festivals, mentally categorize the bands and artists so that, in selecting which stage to visit, they’ll wind up with the style of Dixieland they desire.
In short, classifying music – at least to some degree – is an essential part of both understanding and appreciating it. If the jazz community is not going to standardize its terminology in that respect, if different speakers continue to use the same words to mean different things or different words to mean the same thing, then meaningful dialogue about jazz cannot take place.
To return to my narrative, as the years went by, I felt that some readers might find it thought-provoking to have my take on these notions set down on paper. By the time I decided to do something along those lines, it was the mid-1980s.
In that time frame, my principal writings were record reviews, and my principal outlet for them was The Mississippi Rag. During the dozen years I wrote for MR, I was, at least by quantity if not quality, its leading record reviewer. I wrote about 40% of the reviews published in MR during that period, more than three times the amount of any other MR reviewer.
Reviewing activity then (and still does so) took up more of my time than I really wanted to devote to it. I was reluctant to assume another monthly assignment. However, an occasional bit of extra writing didn’t seem so onerous.
So, in the course of my normal correspondence with MR editor Leslie Johnson (one of those rare and valuable individuals who has given much more to the service of our music than she can ever expect to get back from an economic standpoint), I asked if MR might be interested in a once-in-a-while column under my byline that would comment on the music, the scene and the interrelationship of the two. I sent a few samples to show her what I had in mind.
It turned out that Leslie was planning a new feature, but not a regular piece by one of MR’s usual writers. She wanted to institute a catch-all corner where someone who wanted to write about a topic at greater length than would be appropriate for the letters page could present his/her thoughts to the readership. She thought that my essays might be used to kick it off.
Her idea seemed to fit well with my idea of writing intermittently. If I recall correctly, I suggested that the feature might be titled “Solo,” and in January 1987, it was inaugurated with one of the samples I’d sent in. (“Solo” continues to this day in MR, but not as often. There was an initial flurry of submissions, but the flow tailed off noticeably after about the first year.)
I got more personal direct positive feedback from my readers on the four “Solo” columns I wrote for MR than anything I’d written up to that time. They also elicited comments on MR’s letters page, and even one or two “Solo” columns by other writers amplifying on points I’d made.
Nevertheless, in the summer of 1989, Leslie concluded that the type of column I wanted to write was not well aligned with the direction she had in mind for MR at the time. She returned two unpublished essays from her files.
I understood and respected Leslie’s viewpoint and was happy enough with the outcome. However, having done the work on the two columns, I decided I might as well see if anyone else wanted them. I sent one to Jersey Jazz, which had published my letters to the editor over the years, and the other to West Coast Rag (now The American Rag), [and now The Syncopated Times] for which I had written nothing up to that point.
I assumed that my “occasional” column had thereby ended. However, when WCR’s founder, Woody Laughnan, received the submission, he phoned me to ask if I would write for West Coast Rag on more than a one-shot basis.
Thinking of myself primarily as a record reviewer, I felt my first loyalty in that respect was to MR. I replied that I was not interested in writing reviews for another periodical. Woody clarified his request by saying that he didn’t care whether what I wrote were reviews or not, would I write anything regularly for WCR?
I thought, well, suppose I see if he wants the kind of stuff that Leslie had already tried and rejected? No conflict of interest there, I figured.
So, I said “What would you think of a column that talks about the music, the scene, and the interrelationship of the two?” “Fine.”
Thus was born “Texas Shout,” which has run in every issue of WCR/TAR since the column first appeared in November/December 1989. The initial one was the rejected MR essay I’d sent to Woody, and the second was a reprint of the other one, which had already been published in Jersey Jazz. After that, each “Texas Shout” has been written specifically for WCR/TAR’s readers.
(Incidentally, I used the name “Texas Shout” because it is both a classic-period barrelhouse tune and a nice play on words with my nickname. “Texas Shout” is a piano solo recorded in 1929 by Cow Cow Davenport.)
My goal, as mentioned, was to talk about the music, the scene and their interaction. However, along the way I have tried to give those of you who are not musicians or writers a glimpse – I hope an interesting and colorful one – of how things operate on the other side of the footlights or at the business end of the typewriter.
You will recall that I had initially planned to write a “Texas Shout” column only when the urge struck, not monthly. I told Woody that I’d keep it going as long as I could, but that I doubted it could stay in action for much more than two years. To help sustain it, I immediately sat down and made up a list of possible topics.
As it turned out, “Texas Shout” has continued for nearly seven years. Certain of the ideas wound up needing two (or even three) issues to discuss. Some of you out there supplied me with new subjects. I even thought of a few myself and added them to the list.
However, a description of the music, the scene and their interrelationship is inevitably finite. It doesn’t go on forever, even though the scene gradually changes over time.
As I sit here looking at that initial list, I’ve crossed off everything that seems to me to be a viable basis for a full-length “Texas Shout.” In fact, you may have noticed that some recent columns have been a little bit more anecdotal than was true of the general six-year average, although I hope still containing food for thought.
In fact, a recent experience makes me wonder whether I have been reaching too hard for topics in these latter columns, am on burnout, or losing my touch. A few readers told me they had trouble following my arguments in the March 1996 “Texas Shout,” which dealt with melodic improvisation.
I don’t want to re-write the whole essay from scratch, but if you’re in that category, try re-reading it with a word like “tuneful” or “songlike” in place of “melodic” and see if that procedure helps. In a broader sense, though, when my audience can’t figure out what I’m talking about in this space, you can bet I’m going to do some rethinking regarding it.
I am not interested in writing about humorous gigs/incidents in my checkered musical past. Others, some of whom already grace TAR’s pages, do that sort of thing much better than I.
(By the way, I miss Dave Gannett’s now-long-gone monthly column, don’t you? He managed the difficult trick of writing knowledgeably about his topics while incorporating side-splitting humor.)
I am not interested in cannibalizing earlier columns. Those of you who’ve been with me through the full run are probably already weary of some of the sermons I’ve preached quite a few times: seek originality of expression within the idiom, not replication of the triumphs of the vintage greats; the “standard” repertoire is a gold mine of superior material for a musician who is willing to treat every performance as a challenge to be creative; broaden your understanding of the various Dixieland styles and try not to dismiss casually fans/bands of styles that aren’t your favorites; we must develop commonly accepted and defined terms with which to discuss our music; and the others. I think these are important points, but they’re said clearly enough in my past columns for anyone who wants to look them up.
In short, if you’ve been a regular “Texas Shout” reader, you’ve heard everything I think you need to hear to find your way to becoming a broad-based listener/musician who can appreciate our music in all its wonderful diversity. Moreover, I’ve come to the end of my topic list.
Actually, I reached the end of the list in December 1993, at which time I wrote the first draft of today’s column and discussed its content with Woody. He was not happy to hear the direction I was taking.
At that point, I had already written and submitted “Texas Shout” through the end of 1994. At Woody’s urging, I returned to the salt mines and was able to scratch out enough more to get the column through last month’s issue.
However, I have not written a fresh “Texas Shout” for some time. The possible topics that have occurred to me just don’t seem weighty enough to support an entire essay.
When one has finished talking, one should have the sense to step down from the podium. Thus, I want to tell you that I no longer intend to write a new “Texas Shout” every month. After today’s column, I’m going back to my original plan of visiting you if and when the urge strikes.
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I can hardly believe that, over seven years of “Texas Shout” and seven more of reprints thereof, I never found an occasion to tell you much about my Red Lion Jazz Band. As it happens, the Red Lions celebrate our 40th anniversary on the boards at about the time this column appears. (August 2004)
I’ve always been crazy about Dixieland jazz. I put together my first band during the summer between my eleventh and twelfth grades, badgering schoolmates into coming to my living room once a week to read some stock Dixieland charts I’d acquired.
The Red Lions’ current banjoist, Pat Meitzler nee Patterson, played banjo-ukelele at those sessions and the trumpeter was the late Rolf Dahlen, later the Red Lions’ first bass horn player. Believe it or not, a reel-to-reel tape still exists of that band.
I led (on piano) the campus Dixieland band at Swarthmore College. While at business school, I led (on trombone) the Dixieland combo that played Sunday afternoons and Monday nights at Boston’s Red Garter. When I returned to Wilmington, DE, in June of 1963 to start my day job with DuPont, I naturally wanted to keep playing.
I soon found kindred spirits willing to come to my home weekly to play Dixieland for our own amusement. Some of my office colleagues found out about us and hired our septet (two banjos, no piano) for our first gig, a DuPont Treasury Division picnic in July of 1964.
The band needed a name for that event. Many revivalist Dixieland outfits take their nomenclature from their home areas.
I looked at a map of New Castle County, DE, and the words “Red Lion” seemed to jump out at me. It’s a region just below Wilmington named for a tavern in that vicinity where, it has been reported, George Washington once stayed. I have since discovered that there are two other places in this part of Pennsylvania called “Red Lion,” so the phrase certainly carries an unmistakable cachet of our stomping grounds.
We have always been a band that gets together primarily to play Dixieland for our own entertainment. I’ve never done much in the way of soliciting work for the RLJB. I’m not much good at doing so anyway.
Nevertheless, the Red Lions got some great gigs. For 18 years, from 1966 to 1984, we played monthly at a series of restaurants, including a seven-year run at Wilmington’s best-known and most prestigious eatery, the Green Room of the Hotel DuPont.
The RLJB is the only act that ever played that venue regularly. We packed them in every time. I even turned down an opportunity to play a festival in Europe on piano with another combo because it conflicted with our first-Friday Green Room date.
We closed there not because the band failed to draw. The hotel, having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the Green Room and the hotel lobby, decided to try, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for a five-star rating for the dining room. However, you can’t have dancing or a show in a five-star room – all you can have is potted-palm music. A harpist now handles the gig.
Hotel DuPont, by the way, was very high-class about the changeover. The dining room manager called me in, explained the situation, and asked me how long I thought it would take me to find another regular gig for the band, accepting my response (90 days) without hesitation. Contrast that story with the many you’ve heard about jazz bands showing up to play and finding the tavern padlocked.
Because I didn’t solicit work for the band, and because there isn’t much audience for Art Form revivalist Dixieland around Wilmington, the Red Lions have never worked as many as 30 gigs in a year. The number has been less than six for several years now.
Still, we had some memorable ones. One night the Red Lions played opposite Count Basie at Pottstown, PA’s famous Sunnybrook Ballroom. In 1971, we became the first organized band from outside the Washington D.C. area to be invited to play Johnson McRee’s Manassas, VA, Jazz Festival, among the earliest of the all-Dixieland weekends that sprouted around the country in the seventies. We were at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee in 1988, hitting, on the return trip, a jazz club in Charleston, WV, and the Central Ohio Jazz Festival. And the Red Lions have been to a few other regional festivals and overnight trips to special jazz events.
Some musicians whose names are known on the festival circuit have graced the Red Lions’ roster. Our original trombonist was Stan Vincent who, when he returned to New England from his stint managing a Philadelphia office of his family’s publishing firm, became the sliphornist with The New Black Eagle Jazz Band. For our first fifteen years, our pianist was Rick Cordrey, also a high school classmate of mine, who later was the initial 88er with The Buck Creek Jazz Band. Now that Rick is retired, he fills in with us whenever our current pianist, Jon Williams, is unavailable; you’ve seen Jon for some years now at the keyboard with The Rent Party Revellers. Long-time festivalgoers will remember Dick Cramer, who played trombone with the Red Lions and then The Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Band. Another former Red Lion slush pumper, Pete Pepke, still tours with the Jim Beatty combo.
Because demand for this music is low around here, I never produced a recording by the Red Lions. I suppose that, given our longevity, we would eventually have sold all the copies if I had done so, but there never was a time when it seemed like a sensible thing to do financially. Thus, I suspect that the Red Lions may be the only Dixieland band in history that stayed in business for forty years without ever having an audio recording devoted entirely to its music.
Johnson McRee produced a two-LP set of performances from the 1971 Manassas fest, including a couple of cuts by the Red Lions, but it has been long out of print. Ditto the video made by Heritage Music On Video of our 1988 appearance in Central Ohio.
If I do say so myself, the RLJB is a very good band. Had we been located on the West Coast when the Dixieland festival scene was at its peak, we’d have played fairly often thereat – not as the headline band, probably, but easily on a par with the second-tier outfits that filled out the bills.
Thus, I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to play quality Dixieland once a week for the past forty years. That happy situation may explain, in part, why I’ve never felt much of a need to hustle additional RLJB gigs.
Anyone who wants to come to the tiny hamlet of Mendenhall, PA, is welcome to listen to the Red Lions from 7:15 to 9:30 on Tuesday nights. We’ve had quite a few fans whose faces are regularly seen at Dixieland festivals and cruises visit our basement sessions over the years. Perhaps our most famous attendee has been writer Jack Vance, a life master of fantasy and science fiction, whose works are in every bookstore and who is also a dedicated fan of revivalist Dixieland.
Mere words cannot express my gratitude to my friends and fellow musicians in the Red Lions who have provided me with so much fun playing Dixieland jazz for the past forty years. Space prohibits naming them all, but our current sidemen are: Steve Barbone, clarinet (sideman since 1992); George Hines, trombone (returning to the lineup this spring, now that he is partially retired and free of the time-consuming crew-coach responsiblilties that caused him to leave music thirty-plus years back); Jon Williams, piano (‘74); (Ms.) Pat Meitzler, banjo (‘84); and Dave Kee, bass saxophone (‘02). Honorable mention goes to drummer/washboardist Roger Hailstone, who propelled our rhythm section for most of the RLJB’s four decades and who proved to be irreplaceable when he retired to New Mexico a few years ago.
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Editor’s Note (April 2020):
Last July, the Red Lions passed the 55th anniversary of their first gig, thereby making the band one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously-operating revivalist Dixieland jazz bands in the country. Personnel has been remarkably stable over the years. The rhythm section of pianist Jon Williams, banjoist Pat Meitzler and bass saxophonist David Kee, listed above, remains in place.
There have been two changes in the Red Lions’ front line since 2004. Shortly after the foregoing essay was published, trombonist George Hines, due to the pressures of his day job, left the band, to be replaced by the current sliphornist, John Tatum. This fall, clarinetist Steve Barbone decided to complete his bookings with the Red Lions and his own Barbone Street Jazz Band and then retire his clarinet. Steve played his last gig with the Red Lions on October 6, concluding 31 years with the band. His replacement is Tom Trinter.
Part 2 will be posted before May 1st, 2020.
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Note: All links, pictures, videos or graphics accompanying the Shouts were added at the discretion of the Syncopated Times editorial staff. They did not accompany the original columns and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Tex Wyndham.